May be it was the tea that invigorated us to walk with gusto or it was the good feeling of having covered half the distance that we resumed our walk. Or Perhaps it was watching very old and feeble men and women walking with a zeal that put us to shame for counting the hardships istead of counting the blessings.
We started the trek with added vigor and strength.After Ardh kumari the hill is very steep upwards to move for about two and half kilometres. Its shape is like the head of an elephant due to which it is known by the name of Hathi Matha. it was indeed very steep ascent.
Looking down the small town of Katra seemed like a distant hamlet. There were a number of horses and ponies waiting in a shed. That was the only time when I saw them taking some rest as otherwise I had seen them on a continuous move. I wondered at the trained ponies and horses who would gallop at a speed which would put my heart to tremble. Though I was walking on foot my heart would tremble for the pilgrim astride the horse. But they seemed to enjoy the horse ride. I, very ruefully and selfishly, thought that after some time all that they would remember of this pilgrimage would be the horse ride and nothing else. The ascent was very steep and the poor horses walked with a great weight on their backs!
My husband, a trained vet, felt so sorry for the horses as they seemed to have no rest at all. The only saving grace for a horse was if he was lucky to have a light weight pilgrim atop it though in most cases I could see quite heavyweight pilgrims atop the horses. And these pilgrims as they didn’t have to do anything else than watch the fellow pilgrims treading around, would shout at the top of their voice, ” Jor se bole Jai Mata di”!
And we, the poor walkers, would not have enough energy to shout back! 🙂 I realized that why people in power generally are most vocal in giving advice and directions, it is because they have nothing else to do and have to use their surplus energy in some activity.
Vaishnodevi Ma had opened many vistas for me. I was learning a lot. My belief in theory of Karma resurfaced and I thought if the theory has any grain of truth in it then these horses, once upon a time, must have a human form in some previous birth and must have bled to work some others. They are repaying that Karma in this birth by carrying pilgrims without any rest and pause. I shuddered at the thought of what might happen to all those gleaming and smiling pilgrims sitting proudly on horse back and chanting Jai Mata Di. No God or Goddess would come to redeem you of your bad karma even if you go hundreds times to pay homage to a far flung and inaccessible temple of a Goddess! It was with great difficulty that I got myself out of these thoughts and once again focused on the pilgrimage!
Suddenly at this place the sound of helicopter caught my attention and I watched a helicopter in the sky moving towards Sanjhi Chhat which has a small helipad. it costs only Rs 700/ per passenger in the helicopter and some pilgrims avail this service to reach Vaishnodevi temple. They alight at Saanjhi Chhat and from there take up horses to go further.
Sanjhi Chhat is levelled and declining ahead. From this place the temple of Mata can be seen which increases the enthusiasm of the devotees. It was around 7-30 p.m. and I could see the bright lights of the temple. The steps of all the pilgrims automatically gained momentum and the devotees started chanting her name with more profound faith and devotion.
Now we had to descend a little to reach the Bhawan. I was wonder struck at workmanship of carving a way in the rocky mountains. I wondered how difficult it must have been to get this pathway constructed. I was more than surprised to find a board claiming to be a middle school at Saanjhi Chhat. I could not see a village around but if there was a Middle school there surely would have been some population around. I wondered whether our Hon’ble Minister Kapil Sibal could ever understand the problems of these students studying in school in such areas? Could these students be ever equal to any other child studying in a Metropolitan city? Would it be equality of opportunity for a child studying in this school when he competes for admission to IIT or NIT with some other child from an urban area?
Or would the blessings of Mata Vaishnodevi alone would be sufficient to bestow some special boon to children studying in this school? Or worse still would some children styding in this school would end up mending horses on the way to Vaishnodevi Bhawan for rich and elite pilgrims?
…..to be continued